Why Christian Introverts Ought to be Honored Not Denounced

Keith KettenringChristian Living, Ministry Leaders, The Uncommon Journey

Is how we function as Christians determined by our personality? Perhaps. Adam McHugh, pastor and author of Introverts in the Church, observes: “The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness and extroversion. The emphasis is on community, on participating in more and more programs and events, on meeting more and more people. It’s a constant tension for many introverts that they’re not living that out. And in a religious world, there’s more at stake when you feel that tension. It doesn’t feel like ‘I’m not doing as well as I’ld like.’ It feels like ‘God isn’t pleased with me.’” The purpose of this post is to let all introverts, Christians in particular, know that God is pleased with you. Introversion needs to be celebrated. 

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Extrovert Evangelicalism

Though studies by psychologists and sociologists cite findings that introverts comprise 30 – 50% of the general population, the evangelical church is definitely biased towards the extrovert. The larger culture of extroversion, especially in America, has infiltrated the church. Charismatic, articulate, innovative, energetic, and expressive Christians and leaders are lauded as the best examples of being a Christian. A good Christian is an extrovert Christian. 

I have been made to feel “less-than” because I’m an introvert. I’m supposed to be someone else. In the pastorate, this was a tough assignment. I often felt like a square peg in a round hole. I played the extrovert part well. But as far as my personality went, I was living a double life. I know there are thousands of introverted Christians who feel the same way. Thriving in an extroverted evangelicalism is difficult. 

Pastor Eugene Peterson observes, “American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.” Extroverts reign. 

McHugh sees an even more troublesome issue.

Many evangelical [mega]churches, in their hope to create comfortable environments for seekers, have stripped their sanctuaries and worship services of any sense of mystery and the sacred. Their fast moving, high production events may entertain us and their avid employment of modern technology may dazzle us, but many times, they cannot help us hear the still, small voice of God. (Introverts in the Church, p 27)  

No church is exempt. There’s a little Baptist church on the country road we drive everyday. Currently its sign reads: “The Gospel begins with GO.” The thought is, “To accept Jesus Christ means lots of activity.” It’s a misleading message in light of Jesus’ gospel message to “come.” 

Evangelicalism has always had this problem. You’re expected to enthusiastically express your devotion to Jesus by your emotions, passionate singing, confident sharing, public demonstrations of worship with beaming faces, tears, or bodily movement and vocal expressions. “Really good” services are fast moving, dazzling, innovative, stimulating, and emotionally moving. At the center of most mega-churches and large Christian organizations is a larger-than-life, Charismatic person famous for something he or she does well.

Extroverts thrive in these settings. Introverts tolerate them or work hard to be accepted in them usually suffering silently. Often, they are made to feel less Christian because they are not as emotional or expressive. 

Introvert Christianity

There seem to be many introverts whose lives are recorded in scripture – Moses the stutterer, David the shepherd and king, Timothy the timid, virgin Mary the ponderer, Zacheus the shy, Mary the silent at Jesus’ feet, or even most of the apostles. 

Church history is filled with thousands of men and women, contemplative and solitary, who are held in high esteem for their piety and impact on society. They are usually the de facto and often the official leaders of the church due to their holiness, humility, and experiential knowledge of God. They are often courageous and happy martyrs. They sometimes fight heretics tooth and nail. Theirs is a robust faith forged in solitary struggle and tenacious humility.  

Introvert Stereotypes

An introvert is often equated with someone who does not like people. In reality, they simply relate to people differently than an extrovert. They are capable of deep friendships and genuine love for others. They may not be the life of the party yet they enjoy quality conversations with a few people. Introversion should not be equated with anti-social behavior.

Introversion is often seen as a weakness, flaw, or problem to be solved like alcoholism. Join this program, attend this seminar, read this book and you’ll get better. Introversion is not a disease that needs a cure. It is a personality trait that needs to be celebrated. 

Nor is introversion the same as shyness. According to introvert expert Susan Cain, shyness is a fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating.

This is a key reality. The introvert’s stimulus quota is met quite easily. They don’t need high amounts of enthusiasm, emotion, provocation, or inspiration to keep them going. They are usually self motivated or influenced by genuine offers of support. 

Lastly, introversion is not inherently narcissistic. The idea that introverts are essentially selfish and absorbed with themselves is false. Some may demonstrate an unhealthy degree of self-preoccupation without God in the picture. However, a healthy introversion always has an outward component to it. 

Amy Simpson’s description is fitting:

Introverts aren’t out of touch with the world around them; they’re so in touch, they can take only so much of it. Their brains are more active, so external stimuli can quickly overwhelm them. When this happens, they have to recharge on their own. They don’t need to be energized; they need space and quiet so they can draw on their internal energy. (click here for full article) 

 What Does An Introvert Look Like? 

Cain writes,

“Introverts often work more slowly and deliberately. They like to focus on one task at a time and can have mighty powers of concentration. They’re relatively immune to the lures of wealth and fame….may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions. (Quiet, p. 11)

McHugh denotes three major characteristics of introverts (Introverts in the Church, pp 35-43)

  • Energized by solitude – recharged from the inside out
  • Processes internally – integrate information and think silently
  • Preference for depth over breadth – in relationships, interests, self-discovery, 

I believe introversion in a Christian needs to be celebrated. An introvert has great potential for a deep and rich understanding and life-long experience of God. 

12 (Ideal) Spiritual Benefits of Being an Introvert 

  1. You joyously crave quiet solitude with the Holy Trinity like Mary at Jesus’ feet. 
  2. You care deeply about loving God with your whole heart, soul, and body and make intense effort to learn how. 
  3. You genuinely love and care for people out of a sincere heart no matter what is personally gained. 
  4. You listen well because the other person is more important than you. 
  5. You tend towards meekness since you do not like being the center of attention or talking about yourself constantly.  
  6. You are naturally attentive to what is around you; a sensitivity to others.  
  7. You passionately desire internal transformation since you know that all you do comes from the heart. 
  8. You honestly recognize your own faults and frailties stemming from regular and honest heart and mind examination. 
  9. You pray in solitude knowing that communion with God is the path to deepening union with Him. 
  10. You are “quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1.19) seeking to understand before being understood. 
  11. You lead from the inside out with inner authenticity since who you are determines what you do. 
  12. You are a deep well of thoughtfulness and goodness having given so much of your life to the quiet pursuit of knowing God and His wisdom. 

Why might a Christian introvert live life more internally? Perhaps it’s because they intuitively know that they are never alone. The reality of the Holy Trinity dwelling within their heart and everywhere present transforms solitude into a simple, life-giving interaction. From that quiet participation in the life of the Trinity comes the substantial capability to sensibly participate in all of life. 

The final scene of Season one of the Detectorists, a British sitcom, shows the two main characters, Lance and Andy, at a small hole dug by Lance in the middle of a large field. His detector had spotted an object that turned out to be an old pull-ring. Disgusted by their bad luck again(!), they decide to head for the pub. The camera, however, continues underground showing the long-sought-after treasury of old jewelry, gold coins, and valuable artifacts left by King Sexred of the East Saxons; the very treasure they’ve been fervently hunting for years. If only they’d continued to dig deeper and not settled for a pitiful pull-ring.

A Christian introvert does not settle for superficial distractions. He or she persistently digs deeper. There is great reward in doing so. 

Are you an introvert? In light of this post, share your thoughts below. 

Dr. K